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Laura Smoller

  • Professor

PhD, Harvard, 1991

457 Rush Rhees Library
(585) 275-7721


European History

Research Overview

My research has focused on areas of intersection between magic, science, and religion in medieval and Renaissance Europe, centering around two major themes:  astrology and apocalyptic prophecy, and saints and miracles. My first book, History, Prophecy, and the Stars: The Christian Astrology of Pierre d’Ailly, 1350-1420 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), explores a French cardinal’s use of astrology to investigate the time of the world’s End. I argue that d’Ailly, worried about intractable papal Schism and hoping that a church council could bring the crisis to an end, turned to astrology as a way to silence the numerous forces that saw the Great Schism as a preamble to Antichrist’s reign and thus, by implication, incapable of resolution by human efforts.  I have recently completed a second major project:  The Saint and the Chopped-Up Baby:  The Cult of Vincent Ferrer in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Ithaca:  Cornell University Press, 2014).  Here I study the canonization and cult of the Valencian friar Vincent Ferrer, a fiery apocalyptic preacher of the Schism years who died in 1419 and was canonized in 1455, tracing the various meanings of the saint from the moment of his death in Brittany to his appropriation by Dominican friars in Spain’s New World colonies. 

More recently, I have returned to the interrelationships between astrology and prophecy in a new book project, tentatively titled “Astrology and the Sibyls,” an investigation of ways of knowing the future ranging from around 1100 to around 1600.

I am also the editor-in-chief of History Compass.

Graduate Fields

I offer the following fields for the PhD qualifying examination. For explanations of fields, see the "Graduate Overview" page in the Graduate Handbook.

Teaching Fields:
Medieval Europe (Transnational)
Science and medicine in pre-modern Europe (Transnational)
Magic and the occult in pre-modern Europe (Transnational)
Medieval Christian cultures (Transnational)
World history survey (Transnational)

Research Fields:
Medieval Europe (Transnational)
Magic and science in pre-modern Europe (Transnational)
Medieval Christian cultures (Transnational)
Prophecy and apocalyptic thought in medieval and Renaissance Europe (Transnational)

I will be accepting students for admission in fall 2016.

Courses Offered (subject to change)

  • HIS 107:  The City: Contested Spaces, Syllabus
  • HIS 122:  Medieval Europe, Syllabus
  • HIS 185:  History of the Future, Syllabus
  • HIS 187:  Science, Magic, and the Occult: Antiquity to Newton, Syllabus
  • HIS 289:  Visionaries, Mystics, and Saints in Medieval and Renaissance Europe, Syllabus
  • HIS 382:  Apocalypse Now...and Then: A History of Apocalyptic Thought, Syllabus
  • HIS 383:  Disease and Society from Antiquity to the Present, Syllabus

Selected Publications

  • The Saint & the Chopped-up Baby
  • History, Prophecy, and the Stars

Selected Book Covers